November Issue 2008
Prophets of Doom
A women wails over the dead body of her husband and expresses deep anguish as she talks to the departed soul. “You have left us to go to a place where there is no bed to sleep on, no ray of light in the darkness that prevails; no warmth of the love of one’s beloved, and no warm food to eat or cold water to drink.” Her young son interrupts her and asks, “Has he gone to Pakistan?”
This supposedly funny anecdote is doing the rounds of Pakistan through millions of mobile phones.
The unkindest cut is that the woman is based in Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, located in the eastern part of Indian Punjab.
Hundreds of such messages pop up on mobile phone screens across Pakistan, the deliberate suggestion being there is no fate worse than having a Pakistani passport. Predictably, drawing rooms across the country are filled with question marks about Pakistan’s future. In one week, I have been engaged in discussions with well-heeled women in Karachi, diplomats in Islamabad and young earthquake affectees in Balochistan, all of whom question the viability of Pakistan as a functioning state. In all these cases, more striking than the stretch of the negative imagination was the pre-determined nature of their conclusions. Even a factually correct alternative view to the doomsday scenario was not acceptable. All these people had made up their minds that Pakistan was a failed state and it was bound to stay so.
Where is all this negativity coming from?
In part, it stems from unfulfilled expectations and dashed hopes. The country’s politically conscious classes were sensing the sweet smell of a far-reaching revolution following the February 2008 elections. But then came the downturn. Opportunist politics took over and everything remained the same, except that an obstinate dictator made his exit from the political scene and into oblivion. The coalition government’s antics on the restoration of the judges and its inability to coalesce into an effective government in the formative months of power all became a downer. The absence of a fully functioning smart government exposed the public to the tsunami of economic depression which was battering millions of lives. The suddenness with which the assets accumulated over the last decade dwindled into nothing and the rush to leave the country and head to “greener pastures” by the moneyed with foreign currency began to border on madness. The impression deepened that something terrible was about to happen to Pakistan.
The political leadership, instead of playing the role of morale-booster, got so bogged down in their crisis-management endeavours, that they ended up substantiating the theory that there was no solution to the economic malaise. Exacerbating the negativity was the string of suicide attacks, primarily the one that hit the Marriot Hotel in Pakistan’s capital and the bloody battle in the tribal areas. As the military establishment, later joined in by the political leadership, huffed and puffed over the string of strikes by the US Predator drones without changing anything on the ground, they ended up deepening the nationwide feeling of vulnerability.
It is difficult to predict which way this trend is going to go, but there is no denying the fact that the country’s rise and fall is in the minds of men and women inhabiting it, as well as in the field of defence and economics. And we have to win it on both fronts.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV hosting a prime time current affairs program.